Thanks to its potent offense and intimidating home-court advantage, Utah State enters its first season in the Mountain West confident it can sustain the success it has traditionally enjoyed in the WAC.
The Aggies' chances of contending for an NCAA tournament bid may took a hit, however, with Monday's announcement that their best player has been suspended.
Six-foot-10 senior Jarred Shaw, Utah State's leading scorer, rebounder and shot blocker, will sit indefinitely because of an undisclosed team rules violation. It's unclear when Shaw will return at this point, but his absence would make it difficult for the Aggies (6-2) to contend in the Mountain West should it linger into conference play.
Since making his Utah State debut last season after transferring from Oklahoma State, Shaw has emerged as the Aggies' top interior scorer and defender. He is averaging 16.1 points and 7.8 rebounds this season and shooting 54.3 percent from the floor, serving as the interior complement to sweet-shooting perimeter threats Preston Medlin and Spencer Butterfield.
Shaw's absence will hurt Utah State most on the offensive end of the floor. Potential replacement Jordan Stone is a career backup who has averaged 3.1 points per game and won't can't command the defensive attention Shaw did, making it more difficult for Medlin and Butterfield to get open looks.
With early-season victories over USC, Mississippi State and a dangerous UC Santa Barbara team, Utah State had performed well enough so far this season to suggest it could finish in the upper half of the Mountain West and perhaps challenge for an NCAA bid.
Surviving without Shaw for a few weeks may be manageable for the Aggies since they don't leave home again this month and they open conference play with bottom feeders Air Force, San Jose State and Nevada.
If Shaw isn't back by Jan. 15, however, Utah State is in big trouble. The Aggies start a six-game stretch against Colorado State, Boise State, UNLV, San Diego State, New Mexico and Wyoming, and they won't survive that without their best player.